BHA Announces 170 'Premier' Race Days With £3.8m Extra Funding

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the BHA 

BHA Announces 170 'Premier' Race Days With £3.8m Extra Funding

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has released the 2024 fixture list for British racing which, it claims “includes significant customer-focused innovations designed to deliver a more competitive, engaging and exciting racing product”.

The major change in next year's programme includes the introduction of a two-year trial of 170 'Premier' race days, 89 of which will be staged on a Saturday afternoon. The move has received a mixed response from within the industry and involves a window during Premier afternoons being restricted to just three race meetings being run between 2pm and 4pm. Prize-money has been redistributed from other fixtures to boost the Premier meetings and to strengthen the programme of Sunday racing. The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) has agreed to provide an extra £3.8 million in funding for Premier fixtures, but minimum race values at the 'core fixtures' which fall outside these 170 days will remain unaltered.

A statement released by the BHA on Tuesday read, “The changes aim to grow British racing by increasing engagement among new and existing customers, improve revenues across all areas of the industry, promote investment in the sport through the recruitment and retention of owners, and encourage the best horses to be trained and raced in Britain.

 “Industry modelling projects an estimated £90m improvement to British racing's finances over a five-year period from 2024 to 2028 as a result of the work of the industry strategy, when compared with a 'do nothing' scenario, in which industry revenues would continue to decline.”

The announcement also contained the caveat that the success of the 'premierisation' trial period would be strenuously assessed to review “a range of factors, including economic, attendance, fan and TV audience engagement, betting, ownership, performance of the racing product, customer feedback and participant wellbeing.”

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the BHA, said, “Compiling this year's fixture list was a truly collaborative process on a scale which I have never before seen in our industry, with the sport pulling in the same direction to achieve a shared objective. I am extremely grateful to my teams at the BHA and everyone across the sport who has engaged so constructively in this process.

 “There was agreement across the industry that steps were required to increase racing's appeal to customers at the earliest opportunity, as well as addressing the current headwinds facing the sport.”

Harrington acknowledged the disquiet felt in some quarters to the concept, particularly by certain racecourses that will either lose some key Saturday fixtures from next year, or be forced to race earlier or later in the day. A total of 41 fixtures in 2024 have been moved from Saturday afternoon slots, with 36 of those being run as late afternoon meetings and five being staged in the morning.

She added, “We accept and expected that, with significant change, there will always be some who feel that the cards have not fallen their way. However, the objective for these changes is that they grow the sport as a whole, with benefits that reach throughout the entire industry in the medium to long-term.

 “This is the first major step in what is a long-term transformational plan. The expectation is that the changes should generate more revenue, which will allow us to invest in other key areas – including attracting new fans and new owners and increasing the reward and recognition of all our existing participants.

 “All of these changes are being introduced on a trial basis. They will be closely monitored and measured.”

HBLB Announces 2024 Contribution

In a separate announcement on Tuesday, the Levy Board confirmed its contribution of £70.5m to British prize-money in 2024, an increase of £3.2m from this year and around £11m more than for each of 2018 and 2019 in the seasons immediately preceding the pandemic.

Referring to the “substantial time” in consultation with the BHA prior to the publication of the new-look fixture list for 2024, the HBLB statement read, “The Board's increased funding in 2024 has been made possible by the significant upswing in Levy in the latter part of the 2022/23 year, resulting in higher than forecast Levy income of £100m and a small budget surplus, the first in three years.

“After providing markedly bigger contributions than usual to prize money in 2021 (£81m) and 2022 (£74m) in light of Covid, the Board had signalled that it would need to scale back expenditure in 2023, in part because of the repayment of the first instalment of the £21.5m Sport Survival Package (SSP) loan taken from Government to assist with racing's recovery from the effects of Covid.

“HBLB reported in May 2023 that, over the Levy year to 31 March 2023, there had been a continuing decline in betting turnover on British racing which was being partially mitigated by profit margin exceeding recent comparative levels. This pattern has continued since.”

HBLB chairman Paul Darling noted that the Levy Board's extra financial support of the BHA's Premier race days will be reviewed next year despite this being a two-year trial. 

He said, “As a principle, the board fully supports racing's aspiration to make change to ensure the sport is relevant and attractive now and in the future. A number of changes are being made simultaneously for 2024 but it is recognised that a consensus has been reached through the sport's complex infrastructure.

“The board has been in discussion with BHA and others in the sport to probe and question appropriately. This is the duty of the board in fulfilling its functions before the release of monies. We are pleased to see the commitment by BHA to the publication of clearly defined objectives, reasonable expectations of outcomes in key areas and regular updates through the year on progress.”

He continued, “Although racing sees this as a two-year trial, we have given a funding commitment for 2024 with a formal review point in autumn next year before we confirm funding for 2025. We have been consistently assured by Racing that the initiatives being trialled are all capable of being unwound if deemed to be unsuccessful. This has been a key factor for the board in its decisions.”

 

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